NOAA 2000-R107
Contact: Gordon Helm


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is seeking public comment on a U.S. Navy request to conduct a series of shock tests for a new class of destroyer in the offshore waters of the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico. The shock tests are required by the Navy to ensure seaworthiness, safety, and combat readiness.

A permit for a small take exemption under the Marine Mammal Protection Act is required before the Navy can take marine mammals incidental to its testing. NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service is authorized to grant the permit, provided the agency can determine that these takings will have a negligible affect on marine animals and certain other conditions are met. A take is described as the harassment, injury, or mortality of a marine mammal.

The ship to be tested, the USS WINSTON S. CHURCHILL (DDG-81), is the third ship in a new class of 23 guided missile destroyers being acquired by the Navy. The shock test will consist of a series of three to four underwater detonations, each with an explosive yield of 10,000 pounds. The detonation will propagate a shock wave through the ship's hull under deliberate and controlled conditions. Shock tests simulate near misses from underwater explosions similar to those encountered in combat. To minimize cost and risk to personnel, each new class is shock tested and improvements are applied to later ships of the class.

The Navy plans to conduct the tests in the offshore waters of the Atlantic Ocean off either Mayport, Fla., or Norfolk, Va., or in the offshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico, off Pascagoula, Miss.. The Navy proposes to conduct the shock trial sometime between May 1 and Sept.30, 2001.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, NOAA Fisheries can authorize the incidental taking of small numbers of marine mammals. The agency must determine, based on the best science available, that these takings will have no more than a negligible impact on the affected species and stocks of marine mammals, will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of these species or stock(s) for subsistence uses, and regulations are prescribed setting forth the permissible methods of taking and the requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking.

The Navy and NOAA Fisheries will be holding public meetings on the action at the following times and locations:

 March 13, 2000  March 14, 2000  March 15, 2000
 7:00 PM  7:00 PM  7:00 PM
 Grandby High School
Junior College
Hagler Aditorium
 Fletcher High School
 7101 Grendby Street  1000 College Blvd. 700 Seagate Avenue
 Norfolk, Va.  Pensacola, Fla.  Neptune Beach, Fla.

NOAA Fisheries will be accepting comments on the Navy's application through March 31, 2000. Comments should be addressed to Donna Wieting, Chief, Marine Mammal Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3225. A copy of the application may obtained by contacting the same office. A draft environmental impact statement also is available.

NOTE: If NOAA Fisheries proposes regulations governing the taking, interested parties will be provided an additional comment period on the content of the proposed rules.